« All News

Meet August’s People of the Preserves

The Forest Preserves boasts a large network of volunteers doing incredible work all across the County like restoring habitatmonitoring plant and animal populationspatrolling our trails, supporting special events and so much more. Though many volunteers fly solo, like Trail Watch volunteers, or work in small groups, like stewardship volunteers, each individual belongs to this larger, like-minded community of people who love nature and care for the Preserves.


Nina Tilley outside at River Trail Nature Center
Photo by Kris DaPra.

Nina Tilley

“My whole life I have loved animals and just being outside. I took an environmental studies class in high school and was like, ‘Wow, this makes a lot of sense’. I had a really passionate teacher who sort of pushed our whole class in that direction. When I went to college, I didn’t really know what to study, but I thought that I probably couldn’t go wrong with environmental studies. I’m a senior at Northeastern Illinois University now where I’m an environmental studies major and GIS minor. I’ve loved every minute of it.

“I found out about this internship opportunity through my advisor at school who recommended I reach out to Michele Mottlowitz, the Director of River Trail Nature Center. There had been some interns from Northeastern that had previously gone to River Trail and Michele herself went there for her degree. So, I reached out to her and she was more than happy to accommodate me.

“When I came here for my interview, I knew immediately that I wanted to complete my internship here. Everyone was just so warm and welcoming. So far I’m doing a lot of cleaning, gardening, doing some observing of animal feedings and interpretive programming. I’m helping out wherever I’m needed and just learning about all the things that River Trail offers and how to educate the public about it. There’s something new to learn every day. I love it.

“One thing I love is the amount of care that they put into all of their animals here. They’re very particular about how an animal is cared for and making sure that it’s very representative of, for example, how they would eat in the wild. And it’s that kind of attention to detail that I love. I know they’re making sure these animals can live their lives to the fullest. I think the bald eagle has been here for something like 17 years, so that just shows that animals can thrive here for a long time.

“Ideally, I would love to go into wildlife conservation and habitat restoration, maybe working for a [non-governmental organization]. I’d love to do my own research eventually, and get a Master’s hopefully. There are a lot of unknowns, but I’m kind of just open to following whatever path I feel I’m being guided to.”


Israel Gomez collecting seed at Poplar Creek
Photo by Kris DaPra.

Israel Gomez

“I took an AP Environmental Science class and one of the requirements was to complete service hours called ‘field experience’. One of the options was to come out to the Forest Preserves. I thought this was an easier way to meet that requirement because we needed six hours and each workday is about three hours. It’s a lot easier than doing an hour here, an hour there. I’m attending Harper College this fall where I hope to study Biology. I want to continue coming out [to Poplar Creek] while I’m in school, and I’d like to establish some kind of environmental initiative at Harper, like maybe build a club.

“When I was a little kid, I really loved animals and then it just sort of progressed to being a love of everything else nature has to offer. You start seeing more things as living, and you start to appreciate that life. It’s important for me to be out here because I think we all try to do something meaningful in our lives, and for me, I find that meaning in helping the environment. That’s where I find my purpose. I think other people would find their purpose out here, too. It’s a very fulfilling thing to do.

“Stewardship might not be your cup of tea, but there are other ways you can help the environment. Try new things. Explore things you wouldn’t normally do. It’s a great way to become a better version of yourself and to understand the world a little bit better.

“Personally, I’m interested in local knowledge, like understanding the history of your specific area and where you live. We learn a lot on a worldly level, but it’s rare that we stop to appreciate what our local area has to offer.

“A lot of people want to leave, and it’s understandable to want to explore other places. I think one of the main causes behind wanting to leave is to find someplace that’s more exciting, but you can find excitement right at home if you just know where to look.”


Inspired by the photo blog Humans of New York, Kris DaPra and Joanna Huyck of the Volunteer Resources team will be working together to introduce you to your fellow volunteers all throughout 2019. You’ll get to know the names and faces of the people (like you) without whom the preserves could simply not exist. We hope that you’ll enjoy this ongoing project, and we look forward to interviewing YOU at an upcoming workday, on your monitoring route, during your Trail Watch patrol or anywhere else you make a difference. Thank you for being a volunteer!